Richard E. Ocejo


On his book Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy

Cover Interview of July 18, 2017


I ultimately want readers to think about what work looks like today and why people pursue the jobs that they do. Creative jobs, knowledge work, and high-end services are the most sought-after occupations in our economy. But an impressive number of people who we would expect would want a more conventionally high-status, high-thinking job are instead choosing traditionally low-status ones that require manual labor. Of course, they only want the versions of these jobs that allow them to think and be creative, which enhances their status. And while we usually—and understandably—equate a job’s status and quality with how much it pays, these workers show that a “good” job need not be the highest paying, but the one that gives workers other kinds of rewards, such as positive psychological feelings.

But I also want readers to think about why some people get to pursue certain jobs while others have difficulty doing so—especially ones that seem like they should be open to everyone. If having a college degree (or having the opportunity to get one) isn’t generally a requirement for getting one of these jobs, then why do so many of the people I studied have one (or have some higher education experience)?

A college education provides people with both social capital, or social networks and relationships, and cultural capital, or sets of behaviors and knowledge, both of which are necessary for people to get these specialized jobs. Owners of these businesses, who are all well-educated, tend to hire people who are similar to them in terms of background and appearance. People get and keep these jobs because they hear about them through their social networks or they simply know how to look for them, how to present themselves to owners and managers, and how to interact with their colleagues and consumers.

People who lack these forms of capital struggle to get, keep, and excel in these jobs. These are typically people from low-income and working-class backgrounds and/or people of color. Employers don’t discriminate against these groups, but their absence from these businesses is a reality. The problem is that people from these populations would benefit the most from these jobs. My hope is that readers recognize this small, but interesting, form of workplace inequality happening in these cool jobs that limit their potential to transform manual labor and much service work today.